Just when you thought everybody was done with the ‘Best of the Decade’ stuff, here I come (un)fashionably late as usual. It’s not a bad idea to spend the last month of 2019 getting nostalgic about the past ten Eurovision years though, is it? I hope you don’t think so, since that’s what I’m going to be doing until 2020. It’s only four weeks away, guys. YOU CAN DO IT!
I’m kicking things off with a list that no two people would be able to make together without at least one punch being thrown…and that’s why I decided to do it on my own. From 2010-2019, we saw a LOT of things at Eurovision, and spectacular vocal performances were one of them. Every year there have been singers on stage so talented, it should be illegal – and today’s countdown is about the very best of them, in my opinion. Chances are your list is pretty different, so appreciate mine for what it is (the correct version) and I’ll do the same for you when you share it in the comments.
Without further ado – my New Year’s resolution is to ramble less, so I’m practicing – here are the ten best ESC vocals of the 2010s from where I was sitting. Which was mostly on my couch.
Honourable Mentions Claúdia Pascoal (Portugal 2018), Guy Sebastian (Australia 2015), Lindita (Albania 2017), Nevena Božović (Serbia 2019), Robin Stjernberg (Sweden 2013), Sanna Nielsen (Sweden 2014), Witloof Bay (Belgium 2011)
EBJ Extra | Dami Im performing Sound of Silence (Australia 2016)
Before I dive into the top 10, I have to acknowledge my fellow Aussie Dami Im, who I didn’t include in my original list – an oversight I’m now regretting. She was in amongst my Honourable Mentions, but I’ve been thinking (dangerous) and I came to the conclusion that Dami deserves better. So here she is in limbo, somewhere between the HMs and my top 10 vocals of the decade. After all, it was the way she sang the absolute shiz out of Sound of Silence that took a song Eurofans weren’t too crazy about and made it a song that won the second semi final (over eventual winner 1944), topped the jury vote in the final, and finished 2nd overall. Dami’s voice meant serious business, and her money notes were worth more than I’ve ever had in my bank account. I think my favourite thing about this performance is listening to the crowd (including me!) reaction throughout the three minutes. Magnificent.
Now, on to the actual countdown (sorry again, Dami)…
#10 | Conchita Wurst performing Rise Like A Phoenix (Austria 2014)
You know the competition is tough when this jaw-dropper is ranked lowest on my list. It’s been argued that Austria may not have won in 2014 if Conchita hadn’t been the one representing them. That could be true – it was her iconic image and striking personality that really captured attention and made her performance memorable – but I don’t think anyone could deny that Conchita delivered in every department when she was on stage. Rise Like A Phoenix was staged flawlessly (graphics, lighting, cinematography = all A+), the necessary emotion was there, and That Dress was stunning. But it was the sheer knock-your-socks-off force of this diva’s vocals that had me (and the entirety of Europe) shook. In fact, I’m still shook today, and I’m not allowed in any antique shops in case I have a sudden flashback to that final ‘flaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame!’ and smash a priceless statuette.
#9 | Il Volo performing Grande Amore (Italy 2015)
Right now you might be thinking ‘Sure, of course THREE voices are going to outclass one, you pathetic excuse for a Eurovision fan.’ But that’s not always the case (and also, don’t be so mean!). The more voices in the mix, the greater the odds that something will go wrong – e.g. somebody hits a bum note or things just don’t gel together. None of that has ever or will ever be a problem for the Il Volo boys. Not only are they mighty fine to look at, but to listen to as well. Gianluca, Ignazio and (my personal favourite) Piero can sing like angels…angels with very deep, masculine and powerfully operatic voices. Grande Amore showed off the trio’s vocals to spine-tingling effect, and that’s a big reason why Italy won the televote in 2015. Side note: does anyone else feel the need to take a pregnancy test every time they watch this performance?
#8 | Pastora Soler performing Quedate Conmigo (Spain 2012)
It’s been seven years (!!!) and I still think about how Pastora Soler earned more than 10th place when she went to Eurovision. Sure, it was a contest stronger than super glue – and Spain would be thrilled to finish as high as 10th these days – but COME ON. A performance that has actually made me fall out of my chair on more than one occasion is not one that should just be squeezing into the top 10. But whatever…I’ll get over it (give me another seven years). Pastora is a world-class singer, and all the light and shade in her voice was on show in Quedate Conmigo. She had every base covered: emoting when she needed to, pulling back one minute then letting fly with mammoth notes the next. The last minute of this song is so emotional and powerful, it’s practically life-changing. While I adore the song itself, I have to put that down to Pastora’s passionate delivery.
#7 | Ott Lepland performing Kuula (Estonia 2012)
I have to be honest: even if Ott Lepland sang horrendously off-key every time someone handed him a microphone, I’d still be a fan (no prizes for guessing why, so I’ll just tell you: the man is hot AF). Fortunately, his vocal skills are about on par with his aesthetic allure. Superb, in other words. Back in Baku he was almost like a male version of Pastora – one heck of a powerful singer with as much of a handle on soft, heartstring-tugging notes as on the kind that would have me bursting a blood vessel if I ever tried to hit them. Kuula isn’t just a vocal vehicle engineered to highlight Ott’s talents (well, some of them). It’s actually one of my all-time favourite Eurovision entries, and definitely my fave ballad of 2012. But the vocals really are the centrepiece here, and the slow-burn structure of the song makes them sound extra impressive at the climax. Anyone else feeling flushed *fans self*?
#6 | Aminata performing Love Injected (Latvia 2015)
Usually when I’m thinking ‘How can that voice be coming out of such a tiny human?’, I’m watching Junior Eurovision, not the adult contest. But pocket rocket Aminata is an exception. Not only is she a kick-ass songwriter (who needs to come back and save Latvia ASAP), she’s also an insanely skilled singer who made us all believe in miracles at ESC no. 60. Love Injected was Latvia at their very best, which was a sizeable plot twist just 12 months after they sent Cake To Bake to Copenhagen. What gave Aminata’s vocal performance such a wow factor was the way the song had her sing high and haunting in the verses, then explosively in the choruses. It gets me every time. She has one of those voices that projects without any visible effort, filling the biggest of spaces (in this case, the 16 000-seat Wiener Stadthalle). At approximately 5 foot nothing – if that – that’s seriously impressive.
#5 | Rona Nishliu performing Suus (Albania 2012)
Suus may be a divisive song…hang on, scratch that. Suus IS a divisive song. But whether you love it or hate it – I hated it at first, but learned to love it – I have no doubt you remember it. You’ll recall the dramatics and the moody lighting of the performance, and Rona’s multi-purpose dreadlocks. And most of all, I’m assuming, you’ll recall her mind-blowing vocals – the reason I’m talking about her in the first place. To my ears (because Rona didn’t go quite go so high that only dogs could hear her) she didn’t actually sing perfectly. Her vocals were ever-so-slightly rough around the edges, and sharp enough in some places to (metaphorically) prick your finger on. But what ranks Rona so highly for me is the combination of power and passion in her voice. The only person to put more feeling into their vocal performance appears later on this list. You probably know who I’m talking about.
#4 | Elina Nechayeva performing La Forza (Estonia 2018)
There are two things that can be summed up using the word ‘flawless’: diamonds, and Elina Nechayeva, who’s kind of a diamond herself (just a little less pricey). I think we knew by the time the Lisbon contest came around that we could relax during Estonia’s performance, knowing Elina would never drop a note. She definitely nailed each and every one on both nights of competition last year. This woman has got to be the most gorgeous opera singer on the planet – and while she doesn’t look remotely inhuman, some of the sounds that come out of her mouth suggest she’s from a galaxy far, far away. Like a few other singers I’ve already mentioned, everything she does seems effortless. It’s not like she broke a sweat working her way through La Forza, a song that is a bit of a showpiece for her high notes…but I can forgive it in this case. Elina deserves nothing but praise, so that’s what she gets.
#3 | O’G3NE performing Lights and Shadows (The Netherlands 2017)
It takes something extra special to gain access to the top three of a list like this. This girl group of Dutch sisters didn’t make it onto the podium when they went to Eurovision, but their vocals are so phenomenal that they would have if Eurovision was a singing contest. Lisa, Amy and Shelley were pretty impressive back in their JESC days, and why wouldn’t they have been? They’d been singing together since birth (in my head they each emerged from the womb crying melodically and joined forces while they were still in nappies). But by 2017 they’d been singing together a decade longer, and their harmonies were incomparable. Lights and Shadows was a weaker song than they are vocalists, but I couldn’t care less – I’d listen to them sing That Sounds Good To Me on a loop for 24 hours straight and enjoy every second of it. Thankfully though, I can watch this performance instead.
#2 | Jamala performing 1944 (Ukraine 2016)
Here she is: the Rona Nishliu of 2016 (Jamala just chose to have all of her hair on her head instead of using some of it as a decorative neckpiece). 1944 will always be special to me: it makes me leak salty liquid from my eyes – some call it “crying” – on every listen, and it brings back great memories as the Eurovision winner the year I was there in person. It also proved that Ukraine can stop themselves from throwing hamster wheels/sexy Roman soldiers at the ESC stage when they need to. Of course, it’s Jamala herself and the emotional meaning of the song to her personally that made 1944 so special. She put her heart and soul into every syllable and was so connected to the song’s story, it was equal parts beautiful and painful to watch. Listening to her sing was just plain pleasurable, with that whistle tone giving me the bumpiest of goosebumps. In a word, this is unforgettable.
#1 | Eugent Bushpepa performing Mall (Albania 2018)
I know you guys won’t all agree with this number one pick, just like you won’t all have agreed with the rest of the list (this is a very subjective topic). But for me, this particular vocal performance is above and beyond anything that came before or after it this decade. Eugent Bushpepa has an awesome name (and it’s not even a stage name…he’s just naturally the coolest) and some terrific tattoos. He also has vocal abilities I’m assuming were gifted by his parents, one of whom must be an angel and the other, the lead singer of a kick-ass rock band. Then again, maybe he’s just a freak of nature in the best way possible. His voice is timeless and silky-smooth with the perfect amount of catch in it (think an Albanian Adele with facial hair). Calling it powerful seems like an understatement, but it is POW. ER. FUL. And Mall was just the type of song to show it off. What else can I say? Vocalists don’t get better than this. Well, they didn’t from 2010-2019 at Eurovision, anyway.
I’ve showed you mine – now you get to show me yours! Who do you think delivered the best vocal this Eurovision decade? Do you agree with any of my choices, or do you think I need my hearing tested? Let me know (nicely) below.